On 8 October 2017 a new autumn timetable will be in effect across the South Western Railway network. 
We work extremely hard to reduce the delays caused by autumn conditions, in particular leaf-fall. Our network passes through many forested and densely vegetated areas, and can be affected by leaf mulch forming on the railway lines.   
Services may be re-timed or altered. We strongly encourage you to check your journey before travelling. 

For more information please visit www.southwesternrailway.com or speak with a member of station staff. 

Please click here to download any of our current timetables including the new autumn timetables.


Will my journey be affected?

 Unfortunately, despite all of the measures put in place, autumn conditions such as ‘leaves on the line’ will always have some impact on our services. Timetables on some routes have been slightly amended to take into account this impact. Extra time is built into these timetables to allow for the reduced acceleration away from and longer braking distances approaching stations and signals.

These changes will be in effect from Sunday 8 October until Saturday 9 December, please check our timetable page to find out whether your regular train is affected. Trains affected are marked in green type. The following routes below will have a number of changes to train times. This mostly affects early morning trains towards London Waterloo which may run a few minutes earlier. The trains concerned are marked in green type in the timetables.

Why do leaves on the line cause delays?

When leaves fall on or near the tracks they are swept up and compressed under the wheels of passing trains. Without positive action, this accumulates with each passing train.  This high pressure crushing of the leaves turns them from things which we would recognise as leaves into the equivalent of a non-stock coating on the rails.  Having non-stick rails is a major risk, as the trains can just slide along the rails when they try to stop. This is especially the case when combined with certain weather conditions such as light rain or mist, as wet leaves being compressed are more likely to cause the coating to form.

This coating acts in a similar manner to black ice on roads, and reduces the grip between the wheel and rail. Acceleration is reduced to prevent the wheels from slipping, and braking distances are extended. Drivers have to brake earlier when stopping at stations or signals and have to pull away more slowly. This causes delays. These incidents are described as ‘low rail adhesion’ or ‘poor rail conditions’. These can happen at any time of the day but are more likely first thing in the morning as leaves can accumulate on the tracks overnight. When a train experiences an incident of low rail adhesion, it can damage the wheels and the rails. This means that some trains have to be removed from service for repair and extra track maintenance is necessary.

Why are some routes affected more than others?

Some areas of our network have higher concentrations of trees close to the tracks. Embankments and cuttings can also cause accumulations of leaves, which can increase the likelihood of the problem occurring. Windy conditions and train turbulence also cause leaves to be blown onto the railway from other areas.

What are you doing?

We are working hard within the South Western Railway-Network Rail Alliance to ensure that measures are in place to ensure the effects of ‘leaves on the line’ are reduced to a minimum.

Adhesion forecasting allows us to receive specialist weather reports which highlight locations which suffer from problems relating to leaf fall which will require immediate action. This will allow us to deploy our resources more effectively and react to the problem are as quickly. Trees close to the line may be felled, however there are environmental and ground condition issues which mean that we cannot simply remove all trees. Trees are cut back regularly to reduce the number of leaves which can fall on to the tracks.

Specialist equipment is used to remove the leaf coating from the tracks, and increase the adhesion for trains using them. These include: 

  • Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPVs): These are locomotives which can be adapted through the year to perform a number of tasks. During autumn these MPVs are fitted with equipment which applies water at very high pressure to remove the coating, and then applies an adhesive gel to provide more grip. These trains run throughout the day and night, covering as much of our network each day as possible.
  • Traction Gel Applicators: These are static pieces of equipment which are placed alongside the tracks in known problem areas. These are activated by wheel treadles, and automatically apply adhesive gel onto the top of the track, which is then spread by passing trains to provide more grip.
  • On-train Sanding Equipment: Our fleet of trains is fitted with sanding equipment to improve adhesion on slippery rails. The driver can apply the sand when wheel spin occurs during acceleration and braking.

Monitoring and Response: A dedicated team within our Control Room monitor all reports of low adhesion across the network. They then arrange for extra visits from MPVs, and also organise line inspection staff who can manually clean the tracks. This team also monitors high resolution weather forecasts to help to predict areas with increased risk of low adhesion and to ensure that any potential problems are communicated to drivers and signallers. Drivers are trained to be able to handle the challenges presented by the track conditions. They are able to identify and respond correctly to these conditions to ensure safety is maintained, and to help reduce delays. Signallers are trained on the risks associated with leaf fall, and the vital role they play in communicating with drivers and other staff to ensure safety and reduce delays.